Between legendary comedy characters and affecting dramatic turns, the actor proved himself capable of just about anything.
Just like how the best recipes balance opposing flavors — sweet and salty, acid and fat — the best comedies balance opposing emotions, namely humor and tragedy. Even Mark Twain acknowledged this phenomenon when he wrote, “The secret source of humor is not joy but sorrow." And who's our top pick for an actor who fully embodies both sides of the comedy/tragedy mask? One Steve Carell.
There's Steve the Comedian, best known for creating total idiots who believe VERY STRONGLY and loudly in what they're saying (paging Michael Scott), and then there's Steve the Actor, whose wounded, tormented, deep-set eyes convey deep wells of sadness. And unless Mr. Carell has been hiding his twin, he's that rare kind of talent who can make us laugh and cry. Here's our list of the 15 best Steve Carell movies and TV shows, ranked.
15. “Foxcatcher” (2014)
Transformed by makeup and prosthetics (including a prominent nose and some very odd eyebrows) to resemble a putty-faced real-life monster (wrestling sponsor and super-wealthy heir John du Pont), Carell continued his dramatic journey in Foxcatcher. A true crime entry in the sports movie category, he played alongside Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo. Though EW’s critic disliked how the film "unfolds at a chilly remove," he also celebrated Carell's excellent Oscar-nominated turn, calling the actor "haunting."
14. “Get Smart” (2008)
A remake of the beloved '60s spy series (a Bond spoof created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry), this version of Get Smart sees Carell (as Maxwell Smart) and Anne Hathaway (as Agent 99) bringing an even lighter touch to an already-featherweight comic vision. Not that there's anything wrong with that — this perfectly pleasant, shiny confection was given a solid B+ by EW’s critic.
13. “Dan in Real Life” (2007)
While this very Nora Ephron-ish production (keywords: widower, advice columnist, bookstore meet-cute) wasn't a typical move for Carell, Dan in Real Life proved he can rom-com with the best of them — and having an amazing costar like Juliette Binoche certainly helped. The actor is as sweet and sincere as the poster, which shows him resting his head on a soft stack of syrupy pancakes. Inoffensive, sure, but was it the best use of Carell's stellar comedic talents? Not compared to the rest of his resume. EW’s critic gave it a B+, praising his "subdued performance," which helped keep this "occasionally mawkish romantic comedy upright."
12. “Battle of the Sexes” (2017)
The glasses! The hair! The old-school wooden racquets! Emma Stone (as '70s tennis icon Billie Jean King) is Carell's worthy adversary in Battle of the Sexes, volleying back with her signature quick-witted sparky intellect. Carell, playing an obnoxious real-life character (tennis pro Bobby Riggs, the dork who thought he could beat Billie simply because of his chromosomes), is perfectly cast here, going full blowhard. The comically dramatic story (ripped from the headlines!) tells the story of Riggs vs. King, who played tennis on live TV in 1973 to 90 million viewers, all in the name of women's rights (and, yes, commercial profits).
11. “Despicable Me” (2010)
A redemption story never goes out of style, especially one in which a hard-hearted criminal mastermind melts in the presence of small kiddos. And while the biggest stars of the Despicable Me franchise were the thimble-shaped yellow Minions (ba-NA-na!), Carell's Russian-accented Gru was the beating heart of the operation. Though his mug never appears in this animated romp, Carell's voice shines through loud and clear, as does his knack for adding wonderfully weird touches as the "greatest villain of all timeeee." Oddly moving (even tear-inducing!) for a fun kids comedy, coming from Carell, we can't say we're surprised.
10. “Beautiful Boy” (2018)
Telling a tale that is horribly relatable to millions, Beautiful Boy is the story of a father (journalist David Sheff) trying to save his son (Timothée Chalamet, portraying Nic) from the woes of addiction. It’s anchored by a heartbreakingly excellent Carell, who brings serious gravitas to the proceedings. He also layers in warmth, sincerity, and a wrenching sense of hope, making this a truly moving portrait of fatherly love under the most difficult conditions.
9. “The Big Short” (2015)
After bringing us Step Brothers, Talladega Nights, and Anchorman (among others), Adam McKay's first foray into "reality-based" comedy was Oscar darling The Big Short, based on Michael Lewis’ book detailing the lead-up to the 2008 financial crisis. If anyone can make subprime mortgages highly entertaining, it's McKay and a stellar cast, including Steve Carell as the infamous Mark Baum (head of an independent trading firm and the film's moral compass).
Carell — holding his own alongside heavy hitters like Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, and a pre-Kendall Jeremy Strong — uses his natural tendency toward blustery awkwardness to create a nerve-wracking, tortured soul. Baum is one of the few people who can see the disaster coming while the rest of the world stands by obliviously, making this an unforgettable and essential role.
8. “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” (2004)
A puffed-up, suit-wearing, hot-air balloon of a man, Brick Tamland is one of those legendary comedic characters only Carell could pull off. Whether believing that he's dead, eating a stick of butter, or just screaming with laser-focused intensity — "I don't know what we're yelling about!" — Brick shows Carell's knack for creating personas who blend cluelessness and confidence to produce absolute comedy perfection.
7. “Date Night” (2010)
As the Fosters, a harried suburban couple with kids trying to forget that fact for just one night, Carell and Tina Fey are a match made in comedy heaven. The plot is simple: a date night goes horribly (and hilariously) wrong when they're mistaken for a pair of blackmailers, and the execution is perfect. EW’s critic said the caper "works best when it doesn’t work too hard," and notes Carell and Fey's "great chemistry."
6. “The Dana Carvey Show” (1996)
Through 2017’s hysterical documentary Too Funny to Fail, the criminally under-seen Dana Carvey Show (also known as "The Diet Mug Root Beer Dana Carvey Show") gained a new generation of fans. Looking back, it's amazing that this truly anarchic sketch series — with a freakishly talented cast and crew, including Carell and Stephen Colbert as performers, plus Robert Smigel and Charlie Kaufman as writers — lasted as long as it did (a whole seven episodes). And, as seen in the doc, the show also touted some of Carell's wildest early work. One stand out is a series in which he and Carvey play a pair of dimwits who love pulling pranks but don't really… understand what a prank is. (You kind of have to see it to believe it.)
5. “Crazy Stupid Love” (2011)
The perfect romantic comedy? Survey says… yes! The film's fans (they are legion) would certainly agree, and EW’s critic did, too, writing that "Crazy Stupid Love is a keeper, and it says something true and complicated about love." Carell isn't just the star of the show (jilted by his wife played by Julianne Moore, he hits the singles scene after getting a makeover from Ryan Gosling), he's also the co-producer of this smart, funny, heartfelt take on relationships (and second chances, and Gosling's abs).
4. "The Daily Show" (1996–present)
If the peak comedy news era was ruled by Jon Stewart's Daily Show stint, then Carell and his co-Steve, Colbert were its benevolent leaders, perfecting the art of the mock interview before our very eyes. Carell, in satirizing the slightly dim, eager-to-please, baritone-voiced Classic News Anchorman, proved himself fearless; whether strutting around NYC in belted jean shorts or eating giant scoops of Crisco, he never hesitated to sacrifice his dignity for the joke. And we would be remiss not to mention the brilliantly stupid two-Steve segments, “Even Stevphen.”
3. “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006)
Now that we're accustomed to Carell's massive acting chops, it's kind of funny to look back on this, his first dramatic role, and remember just how curious it felt. After all, he was known as one of the funniest people alive, an expert in portraying idiots with loud voices, and the idea of Michael Scott (Carell was in the middle of his run on The Office when the Oscar-winning Little Miss Sunshine was released) appearing as a broken soul felt like a truly wild swing.
Of course, in the end, our man proved the doubters wrong, showing off his skills in this darkly feel-good indie as Uncle Frank to Abigail Breslin’s Olive. It was here that audiences got to see, for the first time, Carell taking his humorous persona and flipping it, emphasizing the undercurrent of sadness and struggle that lay beneath so many of his characters. As Uncle Frank, a suicidal professor, he provided a melancholy anchor the movie simply wouldn't work without.
2. “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (2005)
What began as a sketch during his Second City tenure expanded (with a little help from co-writer/director Judd Apatow) into something timeless: a sex comedy that perhaps only Carell, with his awkwardly clueless sweetness, could deliver so believably. The 40-Year-Old Virgin’s magic lies in its ability to swing between romantic comedy (the truly charming relationship between him and Catherine Keener) to slapstick gross-outs, to moments of truly gut-busting improv. The poker game where Carell pretends he knows what breasts feel like? We still haven't recovered.
1. “The Office” (2005–2013)
Leading (and Americanizing) a series helmed by one of England's funniest humans (Ricky Gervais) took some serious World's Best Boss energy. But if Carell was ever nervous about tackling this herculean task, he never showed it. In The Office, he imbued Michael Scott with a delusional sense of self-confidence and a near-magical ability to block anything that disagreed with his worldview. But perhaps most importantly, Carell found the soul inside the buffoon, the tragedy within the man's heart, crafting a performance that made Scott a ridiculous but sympathetic everyman, reaching for the brass ring like every other wage slave. Carell's version of The Office had an almost Death of a Salesman vibe… only much, much funnier.
Read the original article on Entertainment Weekly.